The Republican Party used to be the more liberal, pragmatic, and reformist of America’s political parties. It was created in the 1850s (the decade before the Civil War) out of the remains of the Whig Party, the Liberty Party (single-issue anti-slavery focus), the Free Soil Party (anti-slavery and supporter of free land for small farmers), and anti-slavery Northerners leaving the Democratic Party. During the Civil War (and even more in the aftermath of that war) a conservative element was introduced into the Republican Party in that it became associated with big business–but this conservative element was fought by other, more reformist, Republicans. Big business/anti-union interests did not dominate the Republican Party (especially its presidential candidates) until the Great Depression in reaction to the New Deal of the 1930s. The New Deal was the beginning of reform among Democrats, and the first time that significant numbers of African-Americans voted Democratic (at least in the North). But the New Deal coalition for Democrats was a strange mix of Northern liberals, blue collar labor folks whom the New Deal kept from “going Socialist” (in the late 19th C. and the pre-Cold War 20th C., Socialist Parties were popular in the U.S.), and Southern segregationists who kept the New Deal Democrats from doing much on Civil Rights. In the 1960s, the Democrats repudiated their Dixiecrat, segregationist wing. Beginning with Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” the Republicans embraced racists and the reversal of the two parties was complete–but until recently there was still plenty of middle ground: conservative Democrats and moderate-to-liberal Republicans. The disappearance of this middle ground (especially among Republicans–conservative Democrats are still around) has led to Independents becoming the largest class of voters (40%) while the percentage of voters identifying with the Democratic Party (33%) and the Republican Party (27%) is rapidly dwindling. With the likes of Grover Norquist and his “no tax” pledge, the Conservative Political Action Committee, the Chambers of Commerce, and the Religious Right, the GOP’s presidential nominating process is now a long “purity test,” which almost every Republican president before this (including Ronald Reagan, who is now mythologized and nearly worshipped) would have failed miserably. Below is a case-by-case list of disqualifying factors:
- Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president of any party (FDR comes in a close 2nd, in my view) would clearly never be nominated by today’s Republicans: He believed that the federal government trumped “states rights” in many areas and did not believe in the theory of “popular sovereignty” which Southerners used to justify slavery (and, later, segregation) or for nullifying federal laws. Lincoln supported organized labor in terms that sound like quotes from Karl Marx. He thought monopolies were dangerous and that corporate interests in politics were corrupting. He believed in free immigration, too. Can you imagine Lincoln getting anywhere in today’s Republican primaries? [Andrew Johnson, Lincoln’s 2nd VP who inherited the presidency after his assassination, was a Democrat from TN who didn’t believe in secession. He was elected with Lincoln on a unity ticket, so I’ll omit him from consideration.]
- Ulysses. S. Grant: Opposed “wars of extermination” (his words) against Native Americans and insisted on honoring treaties with them. Greatly increased federal enforcement of Reconstruction in order to protect the rights of black citizens, especially in the South. The newly readmitted Southern states protested African Americans owning property and voting, so Grant increased the use of federal troops to enforce this in the South. No “states rights” crap out of him. CPAC and the Tea Party “patriots” would have derided this man who won the Civil War as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and a traitor.
- Rutherford B. Hayes: The Hayes-Tilden compromise shows why we should have abolished the electoral college by Constitutional Amendment long before Bush v. Gore. An electoral college tie threw the election into the House of Representatives. In order to get enough votes to seat Hayes, who won the popular vote, federal troops had to be removed from the South and a blind eye turned to Southern efforts to undo Reconstruction and impose segregation. But Hayes himself would not have been acceptable to today’s GOP: He vetoed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1879–designed to end Chinese immigration into the American West and “keep America for Americans”–which did not mean Indians. He also tried to redress wrongs done to Native Americans–which today’s Republicans would surely have called “bribery” and a shameful “apology tour.”
- James Garfield: Assassinated after 200 days in office, so we can tell little about what kind of president Garfield would have become. But we do know that Garfield was worried that the erosion of the rights of African-Americans, especially in the South, would create a permanent underclass. As a partial solution, he proposed a system of universal education–regardless of race–that would be funded by the federal government, which would also ensure uniform educational standards. He was killed before ever bringing this bill before Congress, but it clearly would have kept him from being nominated by today’s GOP. With today’s Republicans wanting to abolish the Department of Education (and some wanting to end public education altogether), I can’t see them nominating Garfield for president.
- Chester A. Arthur: Prior to the 16th Amendment’s authorization of income taxes, the 2 major sources of federal revenue were tariffs on imported goods (often quite high, which led most people to buy American goods, but also led to equally high tariffs on American exports which reduced international trade) and excise taxes or “sin taxes” on alcohol and tobacco. During the Civil War, emergency taxes had been levied to support the war and these were not quickly repealed. Thus, by the time of Garfield’s assassination, the govt. had a surplus of $145 million (which would be trillions in today’s inflated currency). Arthur opposed lowering tariffs (which he believed would hurt U. S. manufacturing), so he cut excise taxes and used the surplus for a series of internal federal improvements. He vetoed a bill that would have suspended Chinese immigration for 20 years. Oh, and to all those folk who said Pres. Obama should not have called out the Supreme Court for their horrible Citizens United decision in his State of the Union address in 2010, Pres. Arthur rebuked the Supreme Court in his 1883 State of the Union for striking down the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Clearly, Arthur, would not be nominated by today’s GOP.
- Benjamin Harrison: Would be hated by today’s Republicans. He signed the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which is still the basis of most anti-trust law in the U.S.–used for breaking up monopolies. He also signed the McKinley Act which raised tariffs on imported goods to 50% in order to protect American manufacturing jobs and wages. He campaigned for, but was unsuccessful in getting, full federal funding of universal education and protection of the voting rights of African Americans.
- William McKinley: 3rd of the 4 American presidents (3 Republicans and 1 Democrat–all liberals) to be assassinated, although there were attempts on many more (including FDR, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama–though, so far, thank God, the Secret Service has intercepted the attacks on the current president well in advance). McKinley was the author of the McKinley Act which raised tariffs. On many other issues, he might have been acceptable to today’s GOP, since he was very business-friendly. Except for one thing: McKinley was a staunch supporter of civil rights for African-Americans. He did not try to reverse Jim Crow laws in the Southern States (adhering to “states rights” federalism), but he used the office of the presidency (which Theodore Roosevelt would later call the “bully pulpit) to speak out against Jim Crow segregation laws constantly. And he appointed more African Americans to federal positions than any president before him–including to federal judgeships in the South. During the Spanish-American War (which today’s GOP would have loved because of its imperialist nature), McKinley struck down a U.S. Army rule against recruiting black people and insisted they serve at all levels. It’s barely possible that McKinley could have been nominated by today’s GOP (by keeping his more progressive views secret until after election), but once in office, today’s GOP would have deserted him as fast as they did George H. W. Bush (see below) so that he became a one-term president.
- Theodore Roosevelt: Although I hate his big game hunting (almost to extinction in many cases) and his imperialism in South America and Central America, there are many things about TR which I love. He took on the monopolies and waged a constant war against the undue political and economic power of large corporations which harmed both citizens and small businesses. TR created the U.S. Park System as the first step in adopting an environmental policy. He introduced, passed, and signed the Meat Inspection Act, and the Pure Food and Drug Act (Horrors! Federal regulation! Socialism!). He formed a commission to investigate the claims of the United Mine Workers–and the results of that commission led to higher wages and shorter working hours. He helped negotiate peace between Russian and Japan (for which this man who loved war and military service won the Nobel Peace Prize). And, in 1911, he first proposed a system of universal healthcare for this nation. Sure, I hate his “gunboat diplomacy,” and his support for eugenics. But TR was the most liberal Republican president between Lincoln and Eisenhower and there’s a reason that NO Republican candidate today invokes his memory.
- William Howard Taft: Taft was a much more conservative GOP President–and even more conservative as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a job he enjoyed far more. Business interests of his day loved Taft over TR. But Taft could not have been nominated by today’s Republicans for 2 reasons: 1) He initiated income taxes for corporations, with the initial rate being 1% of all profits over $5000. 2) Taft strongly supported the 16th Amendment which initiated personal income taxes, initially imposed ONLY on the very rich. (BTW, Republicans dominated both houses of Congress when the 16th Amendment came up and it passed in the House 318 Aye to 14 Nay and passed unanimously in the Senate. It was easily ratified by the states, too. Republicans had not yet become the “anti-tax party.” In those days, the rich feared budget deficits far more than they feared paying taxes.) Also, Taft believed in free immigration and open borders. Imagine what the anti-immigration forces of today’s GOP would do to a Taft presidential campaign! And Grover Norquist would have made him a target for his tax policies alone!
- Warren G. Harding: First of the “conservative” Republican presidents. But he still released Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs from prison and granted general amnesty to 23 alleged socialists and communists who were arrested during the Red Scare of 1919-1920. He also signed the Shepherd-Towney Maternity Act which funded health centers for pregnant women and children throughout the nation and mandated that doctors give pregnant women pre-natal care (which Rick Santorum now thinks is an excuse for abortion!) and preventive care for children. This act is often considered a trailblazer for New Deal programs enacted under FDR.
- Calvin Coolidge: Silent Cal may have been the first “supply side” Republican president. He worked to deregulate much and big business loved him. But he was an “accidental president” who became president only when Warren Harding died unexpectedly. Could Silent Cal have been NOMINATED by today’s GOP? I doubt it because the laissez faire approach to business that Coolidge took as president was NOT reflected in his approach as Gov. of Mass. where he opposed child labor (Newt Gingrich would have ridiculed him in GOP debates), supported wage and hour laws, favored safety measures in factories, and even supported worker representation on corporate boards! And his views on civil rights would have completely disqualified him.
- Herbert Hoover: Was a good man who was just completely out of his depth when the Stock Market crashed in 1929. Yes, Republicans have a Hoover Institute at Stanford (where Condi Rice teaches), and, yes, after the New Deal, conservatives looked to Hoover as a model. But he was NOT a laissez faire capitalist and could not have been nominated by today’s GOP for several reasons: 1) He was a Quaker with a strong belief in religious liberty and church/state separation and a strong opposition to war. He affirmed rather than swore the oath of office since Quakers do not swear oaths and would not place his hand on the Bible at the inauguration because he believed the Bible should be read and not used as a talisman or good luck charm. Hoover, a self-made millionaire, spent much of the post-WWI years organizing famine relief for post-War Europe. 2)Not an isolationist, Hoover believed the U.S. should join the League of Nations, but his views got nowhere. 3) He denounced laissez-faire capitalism, believing that many large enterprises for the public good should be accomplished by public-private partnerships. 4) Although Hoover made his fortune in Western mining ventures, he canceled private oil leases on public lands. 5) He instructed the Justice Department to vigorously pursue tax evaders–thereby leading to the break up of many organized crime gangs. 6) He oversaw a public commission to set aside 5 million acres of federal land to remain pristine rather than “developed” privately. 7) In direct opposition to today’s Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, Hoover pushed for lower taxes on low-income Americans and higher taxes on the rich, closing tax loopholes, too. 8) Though it was not enacted until the presidency of Jimmy Carter, Herbert Hoover was the first president to advocate expanding the federal government to include a cabinet-level Department of Education. Had the Great Depression not drowned his presidency (at first he did nothing, believing that the banks were reaping the rewards of their own stupidity, then his actions were either too small, or, made things worse), Hoover would probably be remembered today as a very liberal, progressive icon. Because the Depression ended 3/4 of a century in which Republicans dominated the presidency (broken up only by Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson–all conservative “Bourbon” Democrats), Hoover was the last Republican in the White House for a generation. Many first time voters in 1952 could not remember a time when the President was not a Democrat (FDR & Truman).
- Dwight David Eisenhower: Ike was the 1st Republican president of the modern, post-WWII era. He was a very progressive president by modern standards. Inheriting post-War deficits, he shrank the size of the military to save money (after ending the Korean War). The top marginal tax bracket was 91% and Ike angered business tycoons by refusing to lower it “because there was still too much inequality” between the rich and the poor.(Can you imagine what Fox “News” would have said about Ike’s “class warfare” language?) He expanded Social Security (including making sure more African-Americans were covered), created the interstate highway system (a huge federal infrastructure project which created numerous jobs), and, although he generally wished the issue of civil rights would just leave him alone, when federal courts ordered public school desegregation, Ike sent in federal troops to enforce this in Little Rock, AR. During the Suez Crisis, Ike forced the UK, France, and Israel to end their invasion of Egypt–an action that today would be denounced as “betraying Israel” in every GOP primary debate. It was Harry Truman who ordered the desegregation of the U.S. military, but he did so on his way out of the White House. Ike implemented that order and did so in 2 years time. As he left the WH, Ike warned America of the growing dangers of the military-industrial complex. I’d love to see Eisenhower-style Republicans make a comeback, but I don’t see any evidence of them in the current Republican Party.
- Richard M. Nixon: I never could stand Nixon. He was the inventor of the “Southern Strategy” which turned the GOP into the racist stronghold it is today. He was a warmonger and more paranoid than Glenn Beck. He spied on everyone and broke law after law. But even Nixon would be considered a flaming communist by today’s GOP. Look at his record: He created the Environmental Protection Agency. He signed the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act into law–and enforced all of them. Saying “we’re all Keynesians now,” Nixon used wage and price controls to curb inflation. JFK had lowered the top marginal tax rate from 91% under the Eisenhower years to 71%–and Nixon refused to lower it further. Although he expanded the Vietnam War, he also ended it (and the draft), against the wishes of many in his own party–something that no self-respecting NeoCon would allow, today. Nixon sent in Kissinger to negotiate peace in the Middle East–something that today would be called “betraying Israel.” Nixon negotiated arms deals with the evil empire of the USSR. He supported Roe v. Wade although Watergate overshadowed it’s importance, at first. Nixon also initiated full diplomacy with China–which would today be the equivalent of negotiating with the Taliban or lifting the trade embargo on Cuba.
- Gerald R. Ford: Like Coolidge and Truman, another “accidental president.” Ford, a Congressman from Michigan, never wanted to be president. His dream was to become Speaker of the House if the GOP ever gained the majority. (Democrats held the majority in the House of Reps. from 1933 to 1995.) But Nixon’s race-baiting VP, Spirow Agnew, was indicted and forced to resign for tax evasion and fraud. Ford was made VP. Then Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal before he could be impeached. So, Ford became president. He barely got the nomination of the GOP in 1976, fending off a challenge from the right by Ronald Reagan. But Ford supported higher taxes on corporations as a way to fight inflation. And he granted clemency to draft evaders. He was an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. (The ERA had been official GOP platform policy until Reagan.) It’s true that initially Ford opposed Roe v. Wade and supported a Constitutional Amendment which would allow abortion policy to be decided by individual states, though he later admitted that he was “personally pro-choice.” However, presidential candidates are also judged by their spouses and Ford’s wife, Betty, called Roe v. Wade a “great decision.” All these things would have doomed Ford by today’s Republican standards.
- Ronald Reagan: “Saint Ronnie,” whose mythical image is worshipped by today’s GOP. NO Republican candidate for president can win today without invoking Reagan’s legacy and claiming it as his or her own. But the real Reagan was far more liberal than today’s GOP: As California governor, he legalized abortion 2 years before Roe v. Wade, though he later opposed abortion and wanted an amendment to leave it up to the states. But he didn’t really work hard on it-and, in fact, put the mildly pro-choice Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court over objections from the Religious Right. Reagan did give the largest tax cuts in history before GWB, but then, when his huge military buildup led to massive deficits, he raised taxes to pay for them. At the end of his presidency, the top marginal tax rate was 50% and he was satisfied with that–thinking it was dangerous to cut further. (The top marginal tax rate is now 33% and Republicans are pushing for even lower rates.) Reagan did some massive damage that today’s Republicans would love, but he also spent his entire second term negotiating with the USSR in order to eliminate nuclear weapons. He granted amnesty–real amnesty, not a “path to citizenship,”– to over 3 million undocumented immigrants. Twice. Even though he broke the air traffic controllers union, this former union president (the Screen Actor’s Guild) told the world that free unions were vital for democracy. And he had one very good idea for combatting poverty–the Earned Income Tax Credit for working poor families–a tax credit that today’s Republicans are trying to eliminate so that they can give more tax giveaways to the rich. Reagan was also against tax cheats and the use of loopholes and offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes. All of this is absolute heresy to today’s Republicans–so most of them won’t believe Reagan did it. But look it up. He did. (I could link to documentation but if you are reading this, you know how to search the internet and I won’t do your homework for you.) I’m not listing the many, many things Reagan did which I despise, because I am a liberal Democrat. I’m just listing the things which would keep him from being nominated in today’s GOP.
- George H. W. Bush: I end with the first Bush presidency because I dislike the son so much I cannot be objective. But first of all Poppy Bush the candidate who ran against Reagan in the 1980 primary would be in trouble for (correctly) calling Reagan’s supply side economics “voodoo economics.” He was right. They were and are. Tax cuts seldom create jobs and wealth does not trickle down–it has to be redirected by federal programs. The Right was so angry at Ronnie Raygun’s tax increases in 1988 that they forced Poppy Bush to make a promise, “Read my lips; no new taxes.” But Bush I broke that promise when faced with increasing deficits–and the country was better off. He was the last Republican president to have the courage to raise taxes when the country needed it. He also ended the Cold War, took our nuclear weapons off hair trigger alert (and stopped aiming them at the former USSR) and closed numerous military bases as part of an attempt to shrink the military in a post-Cold War world. He needlessly began Gulf War I, but he wisely refused to topple Saddam Hussein because, as he correctly predicted but his son ignored, this would mean at least a decade of occupying and rebuilding Iraq. Today’s Republicans are angry when any war or occupation ends for any reason at all, it seems. And let’s not forget Poppy Bush’s support for free birth control for poor women–He introduced legislation demanding that contraceptives be covered by Medicaid in 1970. It passed.
And there you have it. 16 of the 17 Republican presidents above could not be nominated or elected if they were running in the current, ultra-far-right, Republican Party. It shows a political party that is far removed from the mainstream of the nation (as the McGovern-era Democrats were) and even far from their own history as a party. Unless corrected, that’s a recipe for disaster and eventual party self-destruction, whatever happens this November.
The cause of FDR’s presidential career was economic justice. FDR himself was born to wealth, but his experience with polio sensitized him to the suffering of others, especially the poor. Eleanor pushed Franklin on racial justice via strengthening civil rights protections, but FDR was cautious because he needed to keep Southern segregationists firmly in the New Deal Democratic coalition in order to have the large Congressional majorities that made the New Deal reforms possible. He was also semi-tone deaf to struggles for equality of the sexes despite his partnership with Eleanor–an equality in a White House couple not seen again until Jimmy & Rosealynn Carter and not surpassed until Bill and Hillary Clinton–and despite appointing the first female cabinet head. But on economic justice FDR was such a champion that other wealthy people called him “a traitor to his class.” In his last State of the Union, in 1944, Roosevelt was already dying and had to address Congress via radio from his bed rather than in person. In this speech, FDR outlined an agenda for a series of Constitutional Amendments that would form a “Second Bill of Rights” for American citizens. But Roosevelt died in office and, although Truman defended and attempted to expand the New Deal with the Square Deal, Republicans made comebacks and, after Truman desegregated the military, they cooperated with conservative Southern Democrats to make certain that no part of the “Second Bill of Rights” ever got a floor vote in either chamber of Congress. Meanwhile, much of that vision was incorporated into new constitutions in Europe and Japan–with input from Roosevelt appointees throughout the post-war world. This is one reason–before Cold War fever painted any effort at economic justice as a form of the dreaded COMMUNISM–that many other nations have leaped ahead of the U.S. in terms of economic justice.
As with FDR’s pre-war Four Freedoms, I believe that his 1944 “Second Bill of Rights” should inform any contemporary progressive/liberal agenda. It certainly informs my own vision. Below I excerpt that 1944 State of the Union speech with commentary on its applicability for today. Bold Face and Italics are my emphases. Notes in brackets [ ] are my commentary.
11 January 1944, State of the Union, Franklin Delano Roosevelt:
To the Congress:
This Nation in the past two years has become an active partner in the world’s greatest war against human slavery.
We have joined with like-minded people in order to defend ourselves in a world that has been gravely threatened with gangster rule.
But I do not think that any of us Americans can be content with mere survival. Sacrifices that we and our allies are making impose upon us all a sacred obligation to see to it that out of this war we and our children will gain something better than mere survival.
We are united in determination that this war shall not be followed by another interim which leads to new disaster- that we shall not repeat the tragic errors of ostrich isolationism—that we shall not repeat the excesses of the wild twenties when this Nation went for a joy ride on a roller coaster which ended in a tragic crash.
When Mr. Hull [Cordell Hull, a former Congressman and Senator from TN, FDR’s Secretary of State, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the creation of the United Nations] went to Moscow in October, and when I went to Cairo and Teheran in November, we knew that we were in agreement with our allies in our common determination to fight and win this war. But there were many vital questions concerning the future peace, and they were discussed in an atmosphere of complete candor and harmony.
In the last war such discussions, such meetings, did not even begin until the shooting had stopped and the delegates began to assemble at the peace table. There had been no previous opportunities for man-to-man discussions which lead to meetings of minds. The result was a peace which was not a peace. That was a mistake which we are not repeating in this war.
The one supreme objective for the future, which we discussed for each Nation individually, and for all the United Nations, can be summed up in one word: Security.
And that means not only physical security which provides safety from attacks by aggressors. It means also economic security, social security, moral security—in a family of Nations. [FDR is planting the seeds of U.S. acceptance of a future United Nations. U.S. refusal to join the old Leagure of Nations was a major factor in its failure and U.S. isolationism was a major factor in the rise of fascism leading to WWII.]
In the plain down-to-earth talks that I had with the Generalissimo and Marshal Stalin and Prime Minister Churchill, it was abundantly clear that they are all most deeply interested in the resumption of peaceful progress by their own peoples—progress toward a better life. All our allies want freedom to develop their lands and resources, to build up industry, to increase education and individual opportunity, and to raise standards of living.
All our allies have learned by bitter experience that real development will not be possible if they are to be diverted from their purpose by repeated wars—or even threats of war.
China and Russia are truly united with Britain and America in recognition of this essential fact:
The best interests of each Nation, large and small, demand that all freedom-loving Nations shall join together in a just and durable system of peace. In the present world situation, evidenced by the actions of Germany, Italy, and Japan, unquestioned military control over disturbers of the peace is as necessary among Nations as it is among citizens in a community. And an equally basic essential to peace is a decent standard of living for all individual men and women and children in all Nations. Freedom from fear is eternally linked with freedom from want. [No external national security strategies which ignore economic justice at home or abroad is possible. Economic injustice is a major seed of instability and war. In our own day, poverty makes it easier for terrorists to recruit followers.]
There are people who burrow through our Nation like unseeing moles, and attempt to spread the suspicion that if other Nations are encouraged to raise their standards of living, our own American standard of living must of necessity be depressed.
The fact is the very contrary. It has been shown time and again that if the standard of living of any country goes up, so does its purchasing power- and that such a rise encourages a better standard of living in neighboring countries with whom it trades.
[Snip. FDR outlines the sacrifices needed to win the war and calls for unity and shared sacrifice.]
Therefore, in order to concentrate all our energies and resources on winning the war, and to maintain a fair and stable economy at home, I recommend that the Congress adopt:
(1) A realistic tax law—which will tax all unreasonable profits, both individual and corporate, and reduce the ultimate cost of the war to our sons and daughters. The tax bill now under consideration by the Congress does not begin to meet this test. [What a contrast to the gross irresponsibility of the Bush admin. which claimed that invading Iraq would “pay for itself” and which continued to cut taxes, especially on the wealthy, during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars–with costs now somewhere between $3 trillion and $4 trillion and Republicans STILL unwilling for the wealthy to pay their fair share! ]
(2) A continuation of the law for the renegotiation of war contracts—which will prevent exorbitant profits and assure fair prices to the Government. For two long years I have pleaded with the Congress to take undue profits out of war. [Whereas the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were viewed as opportunities for the Bush and Cheney families and their friends and allies to increase their wealth through sweetheart deals with corporations such as Haliburton and KBR in which they had huge interests!]
(3) A cost of food law—which will enable the Government (a) to place a reasonable floor under the prices the farmer may expect for his production; and (b) to place a ceiling on the prices a consumer will have to pay for the food he buys. This should apply to necessities only; and will require public funds to carry out. It will cost in appropriations about one percent of the present annual cost of the war.
(4) Early reenactment of. the stabilization statute of October, 1942. This expires June 30, 1944, and if it is not extended well in advance, the country might just as well expect price chaos by summer.
We cannot have stabilization by wishful thinking. We must take positive action to maintain the integrity of the American dollar.
(5) A national service law- which, for the duration of the war, will prevent strikes, and, with certain appropriate exceptions, will make available for war production or for any other essential services every able-bodied adult in this Nation.
These five measures together form a just and equitable whole. I would not recommend a national service law unless the other laws were passed to keep down the cost of living, to share equitably the burdens of taxation, to hold the stabilization line, and to prevent undue profits.
[snip FDR calls for national service whereas Bush told everyone following 9/11 that they should just go shopping. He then urged Congress to make it easier for military personnel to cast votes in U.S. elections even while deployed in war zones. ]
It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth- is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.
As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.
We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.
In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.
Among these are:
- The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation [The right to employment commits the nation to a full-employment policy. Usually this is primarily done through private enterprise, but in recessions or depressions, government should be willing to hire the unemployed directly for meaningful national service–as in the New Deal programs of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) which created much infrastructure, the Rural Electrification Project, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (the CCC) in which camps of young men planted trees, dug irrigation ditches, prevented run-off and soil erosion, etc. for stipends which often meant the difference between life and death for entire families. Contemporary adaptations might include federal and state governments hiring youth for summer work in cities painting roofs white to lower lower heat indices and save electricity.]
- The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation [Beyond minimum wages to a living wage, i.e., a salary that allows a family to live above poverty levels.]
- The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living [In FDR’s day this was a call for price supports. It was a reminder that farmers entered depression in the 1920s, years before the 1929 Stock Market crash. In our day, I would think that this commits us to work for family farmers against agribusiness and for local, healthy food, over mass-produced with genetically modified seeds and hormone-injected cattle and the prison conditions of much livestock in factory farms. This hurts not only small farmers, but the health of the nation, and the ecology of the planet.]
- The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad. [We have far too many monopolies and semi-monopolies today. Even the founding philosopher of capitalism, Adam Smith, said that monopolies made free markets impossible.]
- The right of every family to a decent home.
- The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health. [Healthcare must be viewed as a human right, not as a commodity sold to the highest bidder.]
- The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment. [This vision commits us to building a strong “social safety net” that includes adequate pensions for retirees, universal healthcare, and unemployment insurance, with job re-training and, where necessary, direct employment by the government.]
- The right to a good education.
All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.
America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
One of the great American industrialists of our day—a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis-recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop—if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s—then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.
The remaining paragraphs show that FDR did not envision each of these economic security rights as becoming Constitutional Amendments, although he did think they needed legislation enacted by Congress. But I think many of them should be enshrined in the Constitution itself:
- The right to employment. As a Constitutional right, this would force economic policies that care more about full employment than Wall St. profits.
- The right to a living wage. We would not have the huge income inequality of the 1% vs. the 99% today if we had living wage laws indexed to the cost of living. We would need to define a living wage as a wage or salary sufficient to keep a family above the poverty line.
- The right of farmers to adequate remuneration. I am uncertain whether this could be a Constitutional guarantee, but it should be part of the platform for any progressive political party and should lead to legislation and policies which prioritize family farmers above agribusiness.
- The right of businesses, large and small, to fair competition instead of facing monopolies. Again, I think what needs to be a Constitutional Amendment (especially in light of the stupidity of the Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. United States) is the clear statement that Corporations are not people and have only the rights guaranteed by their charters. But we need updated and strengthened anti-trust laws that break up monopolies from all these huge mega-mergers that drown out competition and produce “too big to fail” companies that either require taxpayer bailouts or whose fall harms large sections of the economy. “Too big to fail” must equal “too big to exist.”
- Housing as a Constitutional Right. This would require adequate amounts of low-income housing–and decent standards for that housing. Between the end of the Great Depression and the beginning of the Reagan-era, homelessness was rare in this country. When I was a teen in the 1970s, the “housing problem” was the problem of inadequate housing, of slums and shacks. Then came “Reaganomics” and an explosion of homelessness that grows worse each year. We must end the blight of homelessness in this country.
- Healthcare as a Constitutional Right. This would not demand a particular form of universal healthcare, but would remove it as a “for profit” enterprise.
- A strong social safety net need not be a Constitutional Amendment (although a Constitutional guarantee of adequate retirement pension would finally stop all efforts to privatize or poorly fund Social Security), but we must have strong laws for old age pensions, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and the like.
- Education as a Constitutional Right. This would not rule out private schools or homeschooling (although all parents who choose to home school should have to pass the same teacher certification requirements as public school teachers), but it would mandate a STRONG, FULLY FINANCED public education system, for primary and secondary education. All who have the mental ability and desire to pursue college/secondary education should not be prevented by financial barriers. Education should be free and compulsory for primary and secondary levels and as close to free as possible for the college/university level.
As the U.S. hurtled down the path leading to its joining World WarII, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt (D) outlined his goals for a post-war world order in a State of the Union speech to Congress called “The Four Freedoms.” Because FDR died before the war was over, this agenda was not implemented fully here in the U.S. Ironically, people from FDR’s administration wrote parts of many of the new constitutions in post-war Europe and Japan, so that Roosevelt’s vision was adopted (and sometimes improved) far more fully outside the U.S. than inside. I still find his vision compelling–an agenda that should form at least the core of any progressive/liberal platform.
Let me be clear: I am a Christian pacifist. I do not accept FDR’s assessment of the righteousness of America’s wars or their “necessity.” What I find compelling is vision of a post-war world order. I believe I can disagree with FDR on war, even war as a means to peace and security, and still agree with his vision.
I reproduce relevant excerpts of FDR’s Four Freedoms speech below and use bold face and italics to highlight the key dimensions of a progressive/liberal political platform. Delivered on 06 January 1941 to the Congress of the United States as the State of the Union.
The nation takes great satisfaction and much strength from the things which have been done to make its people conscious of their individual stake in the preservation of democratic life in America. Those things have toughened the fiber of our people, have renewed their faith and strengthened their devotion to the institutions we make ready to protect.
Certainly this is no time for any of us to stop thinking about the social and economic problems which are the root cause of the social revolution which is today a supreme factor in the world. For there is nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy.
The basic things expected by our people of their political and economic systems are simple. They are:
Equality of opportunity for youth and for others.
Jobs for those who can work.
Security for those who need it.
The ending of special privilege for the few.
The preservation of civil liberties for all.
The enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living.
These are the simple, the basic things that must never be lost sight of in the turmoil and unbelievable complexity of our modern world. The inner and abiding strength of our economic and political systems is dependent upon the degree to which they fulfill these expectations.
Many subjects connected with our social economy call for immediate improvement. As examples:
We should bring more citizens under the coverage of old-age pensions and unemployment insurance.
We should widen the opportunities for adequate medical care.
We should plan a better system by which persons deserving or needing gainful employment may obtain it.
[Snip–FDR calls for personal sacrifice in the time of war, including paying higher taxes with the rich paying more than the poor. He also warns against war profiteering–and promises government crackdown on those who try it–completely the opposite of the way the Iraq War was made into get rich quick schemes for members of the Bush Administration and their allies.]
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
- The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.
- The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
- The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. [i.e., Freedom from Want is embodied in a just economic order in which all have enough and the gap between the rich and the poor is relatively small and it is fairly easy to move from one social class to another.]
- The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called “new order” of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception — the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history we have been engaged in change, in a perpetual, peaceful revolution, a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly, adjusting itself to changing conditions without the concentration camp or the quicklime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women, and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
To that high concept there can be no end save victory.
Freedom of speech and expression.
Freedom of religious belief and practice.
Freedom from want (i.e., the presence of economic justice).
Freedom from fear (i.e., massive global arms reductions so that it is difficult if not impossible for any nation to invade another).
I don’t think that these goals, by themselves, constitute an adequate progressive/liberal political philosophy for the 21st C. But they are a good beginning and I would find any political vision or philosophy that did NOT include these four freedoms to be woefully inadequate.
In my next installment in this series, I will also draw from FDR–this time from his proposed “Second Bill of Rights.”